The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high transmission as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and vaccination rates wane.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said new data shows the delta variant, which accounts for more than 80% of the new infections in the U.S., behaves “uniquely differently” from its predecessors and could make vaccinated people infectious.
“Information on the delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that in rare occasions some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” Walensky said in announcing the new guidance, a reversal of what the CDC recommended in May. “This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendation.”
Parts of the U.S. with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week, which includes 60 percent of the nation’s counties, are subject to the guidance. New case rates are particularly high in the South and Southwest.
Walensky emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, saying so-called breakthrough infections of inoculated people are rare and typically don’t lead to serious illness.
She also said the new guidance will apply to schools in the upcoming fall term, noting that students should return to in-person learning full-time.
“CDC recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status,” Walensky said.
Top infectious disease doctors have been calling for such a measure.
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the CDC, which in May said vaccinated Americans no longer needed to mask up in public, has been forced to reassess because of the emergence of the highly infectious delta variant.
“The reality is you’re dealing with a much different strain of this virus than we were even earlier in the spring back in May,” Psaki said, adding that the CDC’s task is to “look at evolving information, evolving data and an evolving historic pandemic and provide guidance to the American public.”
The delta variant has ripped through unvaccinated communities in the U.S., accounting for almost all recent hospitalizations and deaths. Public health officials have said vaccines largely protect vaccinated individuals from severe disease and death, but breakthrough cases are possible.
The CDC is reconsidering a mask mandate: Here’s how it could affect you
Dr. Fauci says the CDC is considering revising the COVID-19 guidelines, including around mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
Also in the news:
►The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will require employees to provide proof of COVID vaccination when its offices reopen in September, the New York Times reported.
►The U.S. is again reporting more than 50,000 new cases daily on a rolling seven-day average. The country last hit that mark April 30, when cases were falling as vaccines took hold of the pandemic.
►Two days before Thursday’s start of the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, the city added nine more states to its travel advisory list. Chicago is now advising unvaccinated people traveling from 14 states to get a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 72 hours prior to arrival or to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival.
►Tokyo on Tuesday reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases at 2,848, exceeding the earlier record of 2,520 cases on Jan. 7. Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency, which is to continue through the Olympics until just before the Paralympics start in late August.
►At least 70% of adults in the European Union have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, keeping the 27-nation bloc on course to reach full vaccination in 70% of adults by the end of summer, the European Commission said Tuesday. Around 57% of adults in the EU are currently fully vaccinated.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 34.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 611,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Nearly 195 million cases and 4.17 million deaths. More than 163.3 million Americans — 49.2% of the population – have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: The CDC says masks for the vaccinated are optional. As COVID cases climb, some feel differently.
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Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the country, announced a new policy Tuesday mandating that city employees either offer proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests.
The requirement makes Los Angeles the latest jurisdiction to issue such an order, following similar mandates for California employees, New York City employees and medical workers for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. President Joe Biden noted earlier Tuesday that his administration was examining a similar requirement for the millions of federal government workers.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez said the new requirement was largely due to the more infectious delta variant and characterized the announcement as the first step in a plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all employees once the FDA grants full approval.
“The fourth wave is here, and the choice for Angelenos couldn’t be clearer — get vaccinated or get COVID-19,” Garcetti said in a statement, urging employers to impose similar vaccination requirements.
— Christal Hayes
President Joe Biden said Tuesday his administration is weighing the possibility of requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as infections surge across the nation with the widespread transmission of the delta variant.
“That’s under consideration right now,” Biden told reporters. “But if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were.”
Also Tuesday, the White House reinstated a policy requiring all its employees to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.
— Michael Collins
Want to go shopping? Better bring a mask
Mask requirements at stores, the source of complaints and some confrontations — including one involving actor Ricky Schroder — may be back soon.
Several of the nation’s largest retailers, among them Costco, Home Depot and Walmart, dropped those requirements after the CDC said in May that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to wear masks to protect them and others from COVID in public indoor spaces.
Now that the agency has revised its guideline amid the rapid spread of the delta variant, retailers may follow suit.
“The main issue with this will be one of compliance,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of consultancy GlobalData Retail. “There was already strong resistance to masks the first time around and this will likely be stronger as re-masking will be seen as a retrograde step.”
— Kelly Tyko
The California State University system announced Tuesday it would mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students, faculty and staff who come to campus, citing the spread of the delta variant. The university system had already planned to require COVID-19 shots, but the mandate was contingent on the Food and Drug Administration fully approving one of the available vaccines.
Now, members of the Cal State community have until Sept. 30 to prove their vaccination status. The California State University system is one of the largest in the country, with 23 campuses and 486,000 students.
On July 15, the University of California system — which has 285,000 students — said it would not wait for FDA approval and require the vaccine for the fall term.
Most colleges have been encouraging their students to get vaccinated, and about 600 campuses have mandated vaccines, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
— Chris Quintana
Congresswoman Julia Letlow of Louisiana, whose state and district barely reach the 40% vaccination rate, is making a passionate appeal for those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get the shots.
Letlow, who has two children under age 4, became a widow in late December when her husband, Representative-elect Luke Letlow, died of COVID-19 at age 41 just days before he was supposed to be sworn in to Congress. At the time, he wasn’t eligible for the then-scarce COVID vaccines. Julia Letlow won a special election to replace him in March.
“It’s horrific to watch the person who you love the most gasp for breath and suffocate,” said Letlow, R-Start, her voice breaking. “My prayer is that not one more person would have to lose a life.
“The miraculous news is we have a tool scientists have produced to fight back in this war in the form of safe and effective vaccines.”
— Greg Hilburn, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
A church pastor in Tennessee is taking a decidedly defiant and partisan approach to masks worn to protect against coronavirus transmission.
Pastor Greg Locke told members of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Julie, Tennessee, that he will kick out those wearing a mask in church. With the delta variant spreading across the country, the CDC announced Tuesday new guidelines encouraging even vaccinated people to wear a mask indoors when in public in high-transmission areas.
“If they go through round two and you start showing up (with) all these masks and all this nonsense, I will ask you to leave,” Locke said during a Sunday service. “I will ask you to leave. I am not playing these Democrat games up in this church.”
— Gabriela Miranda
Missouri’s attorney general has filed suit seeking to halt a mask mandate that took effect Monday in the St. Louis area amid a rise in COVD-19 cases that are burdening a growing number of hospitals around the state.
The lawsuit by Attorney General Eric Schmitt argues the mandates are “arbitrary and capricious because they require vaccinated individuals to wear masks, despite the CDC guidance that this is not necessary.” It also questions mandating children to wear masks in school, noting they are less likely to become seriously ill.
The lawsuit came before the announcement Tuesday of the CDC’s revised guidelines for masking indoors.
The rise in infections around the U.S. is prompting other communities to require masking, including Los Angeles County and Savannah, Georgia.
The termination of eviction moratoriums in different states and municipalities likely led to hundreds of thousands of additional COVID cases and deaths, according to a study published Monday.
The study, published by UCLA researchers, compared COVID cases across 43 states — some of which kept eviction moratoriums and others that did away with them in spring or summer of 2020. States that removed moratoriums saw an average of twice as many COVID cases and five times as many deaths, and ending eviction protections led to 433,000 COVID-19 cases and 10,000 additional deaths by September 2020, the study concluded.
The federal eviction moratorium, preventing tenants who are behind on rent from being removed from housing on public health grounds amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will end this Saturday.
Pfizer and Moderna are expanding their vaccine trials for children ages 5 to 11, according to a new report.
The New York Times reported that the decision came from the Food and Drug Administration’s push to investigate rare side effects, including heart inflammation, that have come up in vaccinated people below age 30. The FDA asked the two companies to incorporate 3,000 additional children between 5 and 11 into the group, the Times reported.
Regulators will have to balance the potential side effects of the vaccines against the risk of COVID-19. Members of a CDC advisory committee believe the protection the vaccine offers for people older than 12 outweighs the risks of side effects.
The United States has no plans to lift travel restrictions at this point given the rise of the delta variant, according to the White House.
The decision means the country’s current travel restrictions — which deny entry for people from the European Schengen area, United Kingdom and other countries — will remain in place.
“Given where we are today… with the delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point for a few reasons,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing Monday. “The more transmissible delta variant is spreading both here and around the world. Driven by the delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead.” Read more here.
— Bailey Schulz
Vanderbilt University Medical Center will require employees with leadership roles to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Employees were alerted to the mandate via an employee newsletter on July 15, VUMC spokesman John Howser confirmed in an email to The Tennessean.
All VUMC leaders are required to get the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or provide a medical or religious exemption by Aug. 15. They must be fully vaccinated or have an approved exemption by Sept. 15.
“The deadline for requiring all VUMC employees to be vaccinated or have an approved exemption is under consideration and will be communicated at a later date,” Howser said.
The university is requiring all students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral fellows it employs to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 for the upcoming school year.
— Rachel Wegner, Nashville Tennessean
Contributing: Joseph Garrison, Grace Hauck, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.